#10 Captain Crunchy Granola

I was always surprised as a kid that both of our parents seemed to have missed a large chunk of the sixties.  When we asked them about famous musicians and major historical events, sometimes they were a veritable fountain of information and other times not so much.  I never understood why.  Had they been living under a rock?  Had an alien probe wiped this knowledge from their brains?  It was so puzzling.

Now that I am a mother of two, I realize exactly what the heck they were so busy doing that they missed out on an entire decade.  I can’t even remember whether or not I fired up the toaster seconds after I drop the bread in, let alone sum up current events and intelligently discuss important cultural happenings.  I am currently in the trenches with two tots under four and if a meteorite was about to hit the earth, I hope someone would have the courtesy to shoot me a text.  Otherwise, oblivious to the goings on in the world around me, the kids and I will surely be vaporized.  If we do survive, in the post apocalyptic interview when they ask why I didn’t evacuate, I would state, “I thought it was strange that everyone was fleeing the neighborhood, but the baby was actually snoozing for once and I didn’t want to wake her.  Also, I had just one more load of laundry to finish.”

Since our parents missed most of the sixties because they were busy raising little prince Scotty, they also missed most of the countercultural influences from the time period as well.  Besides some of their hairstyle and wardrobe choices, they were entirely impervious to the whole hippie movement that was happening around them.  We were a meat and potatoes family who typically stuck to a more traditional, fifties inspired midwesten diet.  Aside from indulging in an occasional can of La Choy chopped suey over those crinkled crunchy fried noodles, we steered clear of exotic fair.  Rice with butter was about as international as things got around our table.  In the eighties, we did get a wok, and mom experimented with some soy sauce and stir fry but this trend didn’t last long.  Eventually, somebody got a screamin’ deal on a wok that was “just like brand new” after it ended up on a table at mom’s annual yard sale.

As for hippie “health” food, prior to your kitchen influence, it was completely non existent in the pantry of our youth.  If not for your kitchen tinkering, I may still be eating a slab of meat with fried potatoes and a side of canned green beans, thinking that this was a healthy dinner option.  It was you who introduced us to tofu mixed with scrambled eggs.  It was you who kept us well stocked with various styles of corn chips. (Not a health food per say but how could I leave out “the staff of life”?)  You brought home pots of yogurt and even made your own signature homemade version.  You introduced us to grain and nut milks, which finally allowed your lactose intolerant self to stop gagging down handfuls of dry cereal for breakfast.  You served up various kinds of granola, sesame sticks, the lovely avocado, tempeh, beans in a form other than the canned and baked variety.  You were single handledly responsible for serving me sugar cane, hummus, tamales and sushi.  While not everyone in the household embraced the exotic and nutritious fare that you pedaled, I became a big fan.  As a little thank you for your important culinary influences, I offer you two of the best granola recipes that I have ever met.

The first recipe is a version of granola bars that are guaranteed to completely knock your socks off.  Admittedly, they are a bit dense in the calorie department, but I promise that if you cut them small, they will provide you with energy for days.  They also freeze beautifully and they make an awesome on-the-go travel snack.

The second recipe is for a homemade granola that will make you want to burn your co-op card.  I promise it is that good.  I recommend using three different kinds of nuts instead of exclusively relying on almonds, but other than that, I prepared mine exactly as written.  I chose almonds, cashews, and walnuts but I’m sure you can use whatever you happen to have on hand with an equally fabulous outcome.  You can eat this stuff by the handful or mix it with some fruit and yogurt.  Either way, it is absolutely divine!

Thanks again for all the culinary adventures, big brother.  I have happily shared your influences with my husband (a serious sushi convert) and both of my children.  The second has yet to eat actual food, but the first would have a hard time grasping that a world could exist without yogurt and tofu!

 

 

 

 

#9 The Problem With Oatmeal

Ahhhh, Oatmeal.  Warm.  Filling.  Delicious.  There is nothing quite as satisfying to be had on a frosty winter morning.  I heartily enjoy the humble oat, not only for its tastiness, but for the pleasant memories it conjures up.  Eating a bowl of oatmeal always makes me think of sharing quiet Saturday mornings with Mom.

As you well know, there was no time for extended breakfasts on a weekday.  Before school, we were barely out of bed before we found ourselves sprinting down the driveway, pulling on our coats with wild hair whipping in the wind.  Mom served us breakfast as though she were handing off a baton in a relay race.  In our case, the “baton” was a piping hot piece of cinnamon toast, lovingly swaddled in a butter soaked napkin.   Mine usually ended up tightly sandwiched somewhere between the front of my body and the palm of my hand.  While a tad stressful, racing to meet the school bus each morning before it pulled away was certainly an effective way to squeeze in a bit of impromptu cardio.

Out of irritation courtesy, the bus driver would give a few obligatory horn honks as the big yellow beast was about to depart.  Luckily, our peeps on board had our backs, catching a glimpse of us at the start of our quarter mile run, they would scream, “Wait, wait, here they come!”  This was immediately followed by a flurry of loose change flying through the air, tumbling out of pockets, lunch boxes, and book bags.  Wagers would be placed on who would be the first to set foot on the bus.  It was a foolish gamble.  Unless you were feeling under the weather or unexpectedly taken out by a rogue patch of black ice, your six foot plus frame was guaranteed to soundly beat the efforts of your petite younger sisters.

Saturday was our one and only reprieve from this type of early morning torture.  On Sundays, we were once again scurrying around like mice with their tales on fire.  Trying to get five people out the door for church services left little time for breakfast.  There was also that questionable rule about whether it was actually okay or not okay to eat before mass.  Being raised Catholic, traditionally the faithful weren’t supposed to eat anything before receiving Communion.  Thought being, if you’re going to consume “the body” of Christ, it is slightly disrespectful to stuff him in there next to a bunch of leftover bits of strawberry toaster pastry.  The only problem was that the “eating of the blessed wafer” part of mass doesn’t come until the very end.  This led to quite a few starved souls with low blood sugar passing out cold in their pews.  Since numerous bodies falling over during worship was a somewhat disconcerting interruption, the powers that be decided to make an exception to the “everyone must fast before mass” rule.  The logic was that people might faint a bit less frequently if allowed to have a pre-prayer snack.  Despite the modification of this longstanding rule, parishioners were still slow to embrace the change.  On some level, the idea of sending Jesus to swim in a river of milk alongside those jovial guys named Snap, Crackle, and Pop still seemed a bit wrong.

After an hour of tummy rumbling, the Sunday service was always followed by some sort of sweet pastry or Dad’s world famous brunch or possibly both.  What am I saying, unless Dad was feeling under the weather or unexpectedly taken out by a rogue patch of black ice, it was always both.  That left Saturday mornings as our one and only chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before noon.

When I was really small, we would faithfully rise at the crack of dawn to catch our beloved Saturday morning cartoons.  Obviously, this was before animated viewing options were available 24/7.  Our children will never know the pain of having to wait six whole days to catch another glimpse of Hong Kong Phooey.  The menu?  We could always count on Dad to hook us up with a bowl of extra sugary cereal.  Not to worry if we were fresh out of Lucky Charms, two heaping scoops of sugar on an itty bitty bowl of Corn Chex was an acceptable substitute.  Shhhh…don’t tell mom.  Don’t worry Dad, your secret is safe with us…until five minutes after you leave the house.  When we accidentally wake our mother as we are flying around the living room like maniacs who just mainlined a vat of glucose, she will NEVER guess what happened.

After a few years, the draw of Saturday morning Sugar Smacks and binge watching Underdog was less compelling than staying in my warm, snuggly bed.  When I eventually got up, I’m not sure where the rest of the family was at…scratch that, all of you except for one can be accounted for with ease.  You were still sleeping in the Scott cave.  Dad was already at work.  Mom was puttering about the house, still in her pjs.  The one I am uncertain of is our sister. Was she working?  Away at college?   I can tell you that, unlike her slothy siblings, she was NOT sleeping late.  Truth be told, I am not entirely certain if she even likes oatmeal.  How can you live with someone for your entire life and not know whether or not they are fond of oatmeal?  I am obviously a terrible sister.  Note to self…initiate random “hey do you like oatmeal” text to find out and assuage sibling guilt.  (For inquiring minds who want to know, she texted back that she does in fact occasionally enjoy a bowl of oats in the A.M.)

Anyway, I have lovely memories of Mom and I sitting down at the table together to share a warm, satisfying morning meal of oatmeal.  She would stand in front of the stove sporting one of her many fashionable robes, gently stirring the pot of oatmeal.  When it was finally ready, she would serve it up in those cream colored bowls with the weird gold pattern that circled the rim.  Next, she would sprinkle a fair amount of crumbly brown sugar over the still steaming oats (not nearly as generous as dad mind you but someone in the house had to attempt to keep the sugar situation in check).   After the brown sugar, she would douse the whole lot in a deep pool of milk.  As you put a spoonful into your mouth, the mixture of the hot oatmeal and cold milk was absolutely sensational… unless of course the milk to oatmeal ratio was off.  Then you not only burned your face off but continued to sear your entire esophagus all the way down to the inside of your belly button.  Despite the risk, there was an advantage to diving in early before the oatmeal had a chance to properly cool.  It was the only way to find those grainy pockets of brown sugar crystals before they dissolved into the milk and disappeared forever.

Mom and I would eat our oatmeal together at the dining room table in our old house, looking out the window as the snow gently tumbled down from the sky onto our deck.  I say this not to paint a lovely picture, but truthfully, since snow was a guaranteed constant from late October to mid April.  And while I am embracing honesty, it would be more accurate to say that the snow was probably slamming into the window, being driven by a fierce winter wind, blowing and drifting against the patio door.  Exiting the house would most likely require one of us to shovel an escape tunnel after breakfast was over.  Seeing snow gracefully float down from the heavens was a much more rare occurrence in the snow belt south of the Great Lakes.

It should be noted that from time to time Dad also dabbled in the oatmeal scene.  His specialty was cooking for crowds when crowd is defined as a family of five.  He felt quite strongly that there was no need to measure when preparing a pot of oatmeal.  The recipe could easily be eyeballed and adjusted adding a bit more water here or a few more oat flakes there.  This was fine until he had worked his way through five increasingly larger pots ending with a cauldron of oatmeal bubbling away on the stove.  After the five of us had eaten our fill, we still had enough porridge left over to feed a small village.  Alas, oatmeal in this form does not hold well.  Since wasting food in our home was highly frowned upon, dad was relegated to only serving oatmeal from those little pre-measured packets of the instant variety.

While the pleasant tradition of making morning oatmeal on chilly mornings continues at my house, it doesn’t happen quite as often as I might like.  The problem?  The one thing that I completely and totally despise about whipping up a quick batch of oatmeal is what to do with the dreaded oatmeal pot.  There is no avoiding the lumpy, slimy film that coats the entire inside of the pot once you have finished serving it up.  As long as you tend to it immediately (which I almost never do) the slippery sludge wipes up with only a moderate amount of effort.  Unfortunately, it leaves your dish cloth completely ruined, covered with gummy smears of soggy oatmeal glop that is practically impossible to rinse out.  If you let the pot soak, the situation goes from bad to worse.  The oatmeal flakes become bloated and the water looks like a jar of gelatinous grade school paste.  Even worse, should you accidentally avoid forget it and the leftover oatmeal residue dries in the pan, procuring a chisel from the workbench is the only way to save the crust coated pan.

There are a few alternative solutions out there, but I have yet to implement them with any kind of consistent success.  If the pan is dishwasher safe, that might be an option.  That is if you happen to own one of those industrial, restaurant quality dishwashers that is able to miraculously vaporize oatmeal in a thirty second wash cycle.  Unfortunately, I do not own one of those.  In my experience, my lowly home dishwasher just blows half of the oatmeal goo all over everything inside the appliance.  The remaining half is left steadfastly glued to the bottom of the pot.  As an added bonus, the drying cycle cooks the oatmeal overspray onto every single surface it comes into contact with.  Now, not only do you still have to scrub out the gross pan, you end up rewashing most of the dishes as well.

There is a post oatmeal breakfast pot languishing in my sink right now as I type. I have very seriously considering just chucking the whole thing into the trash bin.  Unfortunately, it is one of my preferred pots.  I’ll eventually will myself to scrub the cold jiggly goo off of the interior of the pot so that it may live to see another day of soups and sauces.  To avoid using a pot altogether, I have also tried microwaving our morning oats. This works fairly well except it is not really a time saver since you have to nuke each bowl individually.  Also, you must watch it very carefully.  If you look away for even a split second, things can quickly get out of hand.  The oatmeal mixture can suddenly bubble up out of the bowl without warning.  When you frantically open the door in an effort to stop the impending disaster inside, a molten flow of oatmeal rolls out of the microwave.  It continues to ooze down the front of the cupboards and creeps across the floor threatening to completely envelop both of your slippered feet.  Cleaning a slimy pot suddenly doesn’t sound quite so daunting.

Preparing a pot of oatmeal is one of those things that makes you truly appreciate everything your parents did for you as a child.  After all, when you’re the grown-up, you rarely get to sleepily sit at the table, watching snowflakes fall, while someone else makes you breakfast.  Second, the dishwashing fairy never ever comes to clean up after meals.  (I mean I have given that stinking sprite every chance in the world to make her presence known, but still no dice.  I continue to believe but I must admit that my faith is beginning to wane just a tiny bit.)  So, as I stand unhappily hunched over the sink, saddled with the rotten task of scouring out the slimy remnants of breakfast, I realize the monumental weight of this unsung domestic chore.  My mother loved me so much that she was willing to repeatedly remove disgusting leftover oat residue from a pan, just so that I could have a warm, satisfying breakfast.  Now that’s true love.

While I adore my children, I must admit that I make oatmeal far less often than my mother did!  I really do love them but not enough to deal with cleaning up oatmeal scum more than once a month.  That is until I discovered this recipe for a fabulous, newfangled method of preparation…baked oatmeal!  While it obviously still creates a few dishes, for me, it pales in comparison to dealing with my nemesis, the oatmeal pot.  It is extremely easy to put together and it can be made in advance and reheated whenever you have a hankering for oatmeal.  So, even on days when you are running late, you can easily pop a piece into the microwave.  It will be ready before you even finish brushing your chompers.  I guarantee that with this recipe, you will never having to worry about your kitchen being unexpectedly overtaken by the blob when you open the microwave.  You can just grab a neat square of it with a napkin on the way out to your car.  It holds together fairly well, a bit like a soft granola bar.  Be careful of hot crumbs of course, but it is much more portable than a traditional bowl of oatmeal, which I would obviously never recommend trying to consume behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  In my opinion, the only way to improve this recipe would be to have Mom come to your house and make it for you!

Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients

2 cups oats

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/3 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots, craisins)

1 Tbsp chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups milk (cow or soy)

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 Tbsp butter

1 egg, beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8 inch square pan.
  3. Melt the butter in the microwave, set aside to cool.
  4. Mix oats, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix milk, applesauce, melted butter, and egg.
  6. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
  7. Pour into prepared pan.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.
  9. Slice into squares and serve warm.

I like the recipe because the ingredients are versatile so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand.  Clean up is also much easier than traditional oatmeal.  You can even eat the leftovers cold.  The soft consistency and browned edges kind of remind me of eating leftover stuffing…minus the poultry seasoning of course.  While some people might find that idea to be gross, since I know both you and mom used to meet up at the fridge to nosh on cold Thanksgiving leftovers, this should be right up your alley.  (P.S. I actually purchased and tried the soy milk in this recipe and it works just as well as the milk that goes moo.)  Bon appetit Bro!

 

#8 Baby Boys & Bunny Milk

Okay, so I know that we typically do not discuss that you happen to be a grandfather.  It leads people to question if you’re truly as young as you claim.  (No comment, I am neither able to confirm nor deny the actual age of this man.  All family records have been accidentally destroyed on purpose.)  Anyway, since you totally adore bragging about your lovely little grandmunchkins, you of course acknowledge their existence.  Having the luxury of casually adding that the beautiful baby boys are actually your stepdaughter’s children helps.  Despite treating your own age like a carefully guarded state secret, you have no problem throwing your partner right under the bus.  Being involved with a muuuuuuch, much older man, it would be impossible for his children to be yours biologically.  After all, you were a mere lad of let’s say “seven” when they were born.  Since I feel it is not in my best interest to dispute this fact statement, I am going to just go with that story.  Seven? Seventeen?  What’s a decade or two amongst family?

After all, you’re only as old as you feel.  I myself feel much younger than I actually am.  In fact, the other day the Man Of The House (who as a sign of respect will be referred to as Mr. MOTH from here on out) and I were discussing the age of a certain haggard-looking actor.  I was in the process of making snarky comments about how old the dude looked, when the mighty oracle Goolge revealed the cold hard truth.  Not only could this aged thespian and I have gone to high school together, we would have been in the exact same grade.  That one stung a bit.

Speaking of youth, it is no secret that growing up, you were the most entertaining guy in the neighborhood. Extra impressive since where we hail from, a “block” included a few square miles.  Also, disregard the fact that half of your comedic competition happened to be livestock.  Even when you relocated to more densely populated parts,  your reputation for fun remained unmatched.  If you were a super hero, pied piper powers would have been yours.  Once you fire up the magic, children are drawn out of their houses and into the street just to catch a glimpse of you.  Mesmerized like cute little flying insects headed straight into the irresistible pull of the beautiful glowing bug zapper.  You’re like a walking talking Disney experience.  After all, no one earns the nickname “Happy Fun Scott” without consistently delivering quality material.

Living in the same house with you was like growing up with a combination of Peter Pan and Martha Stewart with a few splashes of the Captain thrown in for good measure.  (That’s usually Hook with the frilly shirt not Morgan with the boozy breath, although the latter did make occasional guest appearances.) The only stunt that you weren’t able to  pull off was actually flying.  However, with a few homemade ropes and pullies, you could come pretty close.  This nonstop fountain of fun seemed to flow from you effortlessly.  That being said, you don’t really need any tips or tricks to add to your already amazing repertoire.  However, should you ever find yourself having an off day when your seemingly endless happy fun reserves are depleted, here’s an easy path to awesomeness. It’s a guaranteed, kid tested home run.  Your nephew was an extremely willing guinea pig during the research and development phase of this post.  He wholeheartedly approves this activity and highly recommends that you share it with your little buddies the next time they pop over to Grampa’s house for a visit.

First, a bit of background…Mr. MOTH grew up drinking a mystery substance which he and his family referred too as “Bunny Milk.”  As a nursing mother, I’ll spare you the disturbing image that this conjures up in my breastfeeding brain.  I am obviously warped from sleep deprivation and providing  round the clock nourishment to my own baby bunny.  Anyway, “Bunny Milk”  refers to the rabbit that appears on those bright yellow packages of powder meant for flavoring milk, the strawberry variety in particular.  It is logical to wonder what they called the chocolate flavor in his house given the similarity of the packaging.  Derr…chocolate milk, of course.  I’m not certain why only the pink kind earned the “Bunny Milk” moniker as both packages are plastered with the exact same image of a giant rabbit, but that is a discussion for another time.

As you know, in our house, we make a considerable effort to “eat clean” as much as possible.  (Disclaimer: I never use that annoying phrasing in my real life.  It sounds like insinuating that other people out there are eating unwashed produce and old, moldy bread…or possibly enjoying snacks that were accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor after a glancing blow off the dog’s bum.) Anyway, we try not to regularly ingest artificial stuff that was developed in laboratories.  That doesn’t mean we NEVER indulge in fake food products.  An occasional box of Girl Scout cookies or Little Debbie snack cakes has been known to saunter across our threshold, but we do try to limit the number of invitations we send out.  Therefore, you can imagine my horror when Mr. MOTH brought home an entire carton of pre-packaged strawberry milk that just happened to catch his eye in the dairy aisle.  Since this particular shopping trip was a joint venture between father and son, the seed to sugartown had already taken root.  My son couldn’t wait to get his little lips wrapped around a big ole glass of the pink devil.  I mean really…I might as well have let the kid drink a bottle of corn syrup with a splash of milk added, followed by a chaser of red dye #7.  And by chaser, I do mean an entire pint glass of fire engine red food coloring.  Saying the beverage was brightly colored was an understatement of gross proportions, it was fluorescent freaking fuchsia.

Mr. MOTH and son happily sucked down this neon nectar of the Gods and even bellied up to the bunny bar for seconds.  After their initial bunny milk binge, it took a good week and a half to make it to the bottom of the carton.  This was largely due to the fact that consumption of the heavily processed pink poison was strictly rationed by mean old mama bear.  Once the daily limit of two shot glasses of bunny milk had been reached, there was no more to be had that day.  Needless to say, it was the last thing the little guy asked for before bed and the first thing requested upon waking.  He was 100% hooked.  A bunny milk monster had been made.

What’s a loving mother to do when her toddler has developed an insatiable hankering for an artificially flavored, highlighter pink drink?  Of course, with a bit of help from the old Interwebs, I set out to recreate a healthier homemade version of bunny milk minus the mystery ingredients and the magenta hue.  I say “healthier” but in reality, bunny milk maison contains a boatload mid-sized barge full of sugar so it’s obviously a treat and not an every day beverage.  Wait, what am I even saying?  As the grandparent in this scenario, you need not concern yourself with healthy nutrition and the rationing of sugar.  You are the Grampa after all…sugar is what you do.  To help you along in your efforts, here is my adaptation of this recipe for homemade strawberry bunny milk!  It is pretty easy to whip up, can be prepared in advance and get this… I was actually able to create three different tasty items out of this one quick recipe.  It is the strawberry syrup trifecta! With this bit of yumminess added to your already awesome arsenal of all things fun, you are guaranteed to instantly achieve greatest-grampa-ever status.

Strawberry Bunny Milk

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

Place berries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil.  Continue to boil for ten minutes, stirring a few times.

Using a sieve, strain the liquid from the berries.  (Save berries for another use.)

Allow the syrup to cool.

Fill a glass with 3/4 cup of ice cold milk.

Stir in 4 Tablespoons of Strawberry Syrup. (Adjust more or less to taste.)

Ta-da!  May I present Grampa’s House Bunny Milk!  If that doesn’t make you the  happiest, most fun Grampa, I don’t know what will.  Just in case it’s a bust, here are a few extra credit ideas to help things along if the bunny milk doesn’t blow them away.

  1. The strawberries that you set aside earlier can be mixed into yogurt, smeared on hot, freshly buttered toast, or served up on top of a pile of crispy waffles.  (I would have said pancakes but I am well aware of how you feel about pancakes.  Ditto in the french toast department.  I have ceased trying to understand how waffles get a pass here.)  By the way, your favorite nephew and I did not bother with any of this fanciness.  We just plopped down with a spoon and took turns slurping up sugary mouthfuls of smooshed strawberries.  It pleasantly passed the time as we waited for the molten syrup to reach a drinkable temperature.
  2. After making two glasses of bunny milk, we still had some syrup left.  Obviously, we could have just made more bunny milk, but instead, we popped the leftovers into the fridge until after dinner.  For dessert, I crushed up some snowy ice in my super powerful blender.  I put a scoop of ice into a small bowl, doused it with a generous amount of fruity syrup, and voila…mini strawberry sno-cones for all!
  3. Finally, I will share with you my ultimate trade secret.  If you truly wish to be the coolest grandad on the block, you must invest in a milk frother (sometimes called a foamer). It is a relatively inexpensive stainless steel contraption that allows you to turn ordinary milk into that glorious pillowy foam that you find floating on drinks at coffee houses.  The device is extremely easy to use, easy to clean, and as a bonus the little guys can wear themselves out by helping to create the fantabulous foamy froth.  It is essentially a small metal pitcher with a special lid that has a built in handle attached to a round screen inside.  You vigorously plunge the handle up and down pushing and pulling the screen through the liquid about 100 times until you get a glorious mug of milky foam.  Owning this gadget has forever changed my life and my waistline.  Not only are you able to serve basic bunny milk, you can create beautiful glasses of fluffy bunny milk.  Tell me that is not a one way ride to Best-Grampa-Ever-Ville.
  4. One last thing, I did not forget that you are in fact lactose intolerant.  Therefore, for your own comfort (and the comfort of everyone around you) please feel free to rely on the milk substitute of your choice.  I have not attempted to froth any non-milk milks, so when and if you do, please let me know if they are indeed frothable.  (The Internet says they are, so it must be true.)
  5. Last, last thing.  The original author of the recipe used frozen berries in place of fresh ones with equal success. I have not yet tried it but I have some frozen blackberries hanging out in my freezer which I might try.  Review of Bunny Milk straight from the Blackberry Patch coming soon.  Supposedly, you can also use peaches, mangos, or any other fruit of your choice.  I imagine that the sugar content may have to be adjusted depending on the variety you select.

There you have it grandpappy!  Bunny milk is a solid winner, but the frothing part steals the show for sure.  Throw in the added bonus of apres-dinner sno-cones and the grandkids may never want to leave.  With all that sugar coursing through their veins, I can guarantee that their mom will be more than happy to let them stay at least until they come down off the sugar buzz.  Your step-daughter may not agree with your aggressive, over the top, sugar pushing ways, but she won’t be able to deny that there is one perk.  When the cuties finally crash into their little car seats, after the best day ever chez Grampa, they will immediately fall into a sugar induced stupor.  The upside to sugar overload?  A totally silent car interior before they even make it out of your driveway.  Now that’s a win-win!

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Passwords & Recycling Bins Gone Rogue

So, after an extremely lengthy absence and the addition of a beautiful (sometimes screaming, possibly poo covered, ever so slightly perfumed with the faint lingering scent of baby spit up…yet still exquisitely beautiful) baby girl, I am completely and totally back.   Just please do not judge us if our new perfume smells vaguely like a combination of Dove body wash and a small carton of milk that’s just a teeny tiny bit past its prime.

I really do make every attempt to keep us both smelling clean and fresh.  In fact, everyone in the house has actually been bathed and/or showered at some point today which is nothing short of miraculous.  A few hours have gone by, and we all have managed to remain relatively tidy.  I say relatively due to the fact that the shirtless toddler may or may not be hiding a bit of grape jelly in his armpit, the littlest cherub happens to be on her third impossibly adorable infant outfit, and I am on shirt number four.  Luckily, the lower half of my body has been spared the waterfall of baby barf that repeatedly strafed my upper half, which is fortunate since the washer and dryer are both now full.

This is also why I am currently sporting a pair of shorts on a brisk winter day in the middle of February.  All of my pantalones of the non pajama-esque variety are still just a smidge too tight.  The remaining “more pajama than actual legware I might actually  leave the house wearing” pants are flip flopping about in one of the two laundry machines in my basement.  So, on this blustery morning, out of wardrobe desperation, I am in fact sporting a lovely pair of denim maternity shorts.  Needless to say, I do not plan on receiving guests today.

Hopefully,  I won’t have to go outside for some bizarre unexpected reason like the fact that our recycling can is blowing down the street and out into the open waters of the  Great South Bay.  This would require me to carefully extract some form of watercraft from the garage, launch it from the dock, and despite the frosty weather and fog, drag my two life jacket wearing children out to sea in order to retrieve our recycling can all the while wearing shorts.   Surely it would make more sense to at least wait for a pair of dry trousers or simply let the big blue barrel drift away and get myself a new one?

This is obviously based on the erroneous assumption that replacing the recycling can where I live is no big deal.  Not, so bro.  This would require me to get myself and my two children over to the town hall (A noteworthy feat in and of itself).  Once there, I would be expected to wait in line for several hours while balancing a breastfeeding baby in one arm and wrangling an impatient toddler with the other.  I mean there are only so many one handed shadow puppets to be had out there.  At the front of the line, with cramped up fingers and one bare breast exposed, I would then provide no less than three different forms of acceptable identification and at least six months worth of paid bills from two different utility companies in order to prove that I do in fact live where I say I do.  (I am guessing that at some point in the past they had a lot of problems with unsavory out-of-towners pretending to be locals and making off with a whole lot of free recycling containers.)  Once my identity was positively confirmed, I would be asked to fill out a notarized form outlining exactly why I was so irresponsible with the special blue recycling barrel that the town was so very gracious to provide me with when I moved into my home six years ago.  Finally, I may possibly be asked to hand over my first born child in exchange for a replacement receptacle.  And what would be the worst part of this scenario?  I would be the only chick at the town hall wearing a pair of shorts…in February.

Obviously, the town is trying to teach a lesson to all of those careless homeowners who let their recycling bins languish in the streets unattended and unsupervised.  While the poor cans are alone and unprotected, the residents are doing unimportant things like working at their full time job so that they can keep paying their mortgage and thus still have a need for a recycling bin in the first place.  Town hall tyranny and wardrobe issues aside, I have still done little to explain why it has been such an extremely long time since my last post.

Two tiny kiddos too overwhelming?  Nope. Writer’s block?  Not exactly.  Lack of motivation?  Absolutely not!  Too busy to even think about typing?  Only occassionally.  Lost my writing mojo?  Never.  Too busy tracking down missing recycling containers while the neighbors stare because I am wearing shorts?  Negative.

How about lost my password…and couldn’t remember it…at all.  Under any circumstances.  No matter how many times I tried to access my account in vain.  Numerous attempts to sift through my mental archives in search of the wacky combo of passwords that I have invented over the years continuously resulted in the same dastardly “Login Attempt Failed” message.

Until today!  This morning after my husband gently woke me up by accidentally allowing a soaking wet ninety pound German Shepherd to step on my face, I finally remembered.  Shortly after the man of the house apologized and headed out to make the bacon, I had a miraculous moment.  The tricky secret combo that was so stealthy even I forgot it came to me halfway between my third cup of coffee and my twenty third diaper change.  Lo and behold this time the magic combination was actually correct. Of course…how could I forget part of my grandparents street address (after they moved when my dad was ten but before they  retired and moved back to their home state)  + random symbol no one would ever choose as part of their password + the former zip code of my best friend’s gay uncle who used to live in Paris but got divorced from Pierre-Francois and now lives in a bungalow outside of Poughkeepsie with some new guy named Bernard.  How could I have ever forgotten that?

With my trusty password finally recovered, I am fairly excited about the prospect of continuing my little posts dedicated to you mon frere.  My only regret is that I have had numerous prospective posts tumble through the interior passageways of my brain over the last few months (okay truth in disclosure it has actually been TWO WHOLE YEARS). Luckily, for me, your inability to fully comprehend time concepts will allow you to completely overlook this fact.  Unfortunately, like my temporarily unretrievable password, I have forgotten almost all of my previously planned posts.

Don’t worry though, slowly but surely, they will come back to me, just like my password which I am going to write down and keep in a safe place just in case my mind gets junked up with other important data…like where I parked my car at Target or if I’ve fed my children something other than goldfish crackers in the last 24 hours.  Now excuse me, while I tromp out to the curb in the middle of a monsoon to retrieve my lovely cobalt colored recycling can.  (I’ll be the one in my husband’s enormous red raincoat, with my still wet hair wrapped in a hot pink towel, wearing purple polka dotted rain boots and shorts.)

#6 Yoga + Toddler = Disaster

So like all the other plumpsters fresh into the new year, frustrated with my fatty flanks, I began to work out more seriously back in January.  All the usual results followed.  Things were going well.  I was feeling better.  I had more energy.  I was starting to see progress and then shock of shocks…I fell off the fitness wagon.  Actually, my cart of fitness flew off the road, crashed into a tree, flipped over three times, and launched me into a ravine filled with ice cream, potato chips, and homemade chocolate peanut butter eggs.  At first I was like, “What good fortune!!”   I quickly changed my mind when I found myself back where I started in January maybe even a little worse.

The thing is I still thought everything was going okay.  The facts were muddled by an unusually cool spring that forced me to wear warm bulky layers much later into the season than usual.  When spring finally sprung, I rapidly realized the error of my ways.  When rising temperatures forced me to wear something other than a snuggly oversized sweatshirt and jeans or comfy flannel pants, the full implications of a doomed bathing suit season hit home.  I would have had the same reaction if a small meteor had crashed through the roof of my house and landed in the middle of my living room.  I could see it coming.  It was obviously moving at a high rate of speed.  It still seemed so far away.  Then…KRACKO!  I instantly became alarmingly aware that if I wasn’t willing to attempt to pull off the sausage casing look on the spring runway, I needed to take urgent and immediate action.  So here I am.

I’ve been walking more.  Not yet 10,000 steps more but I’m trying.  I’ve been getting in a little strength training a few times a week.  It’s been slow going.  I’ve also managed to halt the avalanche of snacks that have been continuously rolling off the table into my mouth, followed closely behind by blobs of blubber that slowly filled the spaces where my abs once lived.  This morning I thought I would dabble in a bit of yoga.  Things were going well.  I was feeling better.  I had more energy.  I was starting to see progress and then shock of shocks…a lawnmower slammed into my right ankle while I was in the bridge pose.

It was plastic of course, driven by a toddler who was laughing hysterically as he repeatedly rammed his little green plastic garden gadget into my Achilles.  I tried to calmly explain that I was doing yoga and that I would be done shortly.  He seemed satisfied with that response until a few moments later.  While in downward facing dog pose, I felt the weight of twenty pounds of child standing on my fingers, wearing snow boots of course.  I shrieked and pried my mangled digits from between the vicious disfiguring treads of his clod hoppers.  And with that highly entertaining moment (for him of course, not me), a monster was born and the calm peaceful yoga routine as I once knew it would be gone forever.  Midway into child’s pose, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a few Eskimo kisses.  Too bad he misjudged the unusual angle of approach and gave me a skull rattling head butt instead.  As I entered the sphinx pose, he jumped on the opportunity to attempt to mount a moving horse.  Shooting pain in your spine is in no way soothing, but I pressed on, determined to make it to the end of the routine.  How appropriate that during the final corpse pose he decided to give me a big hug which turned into a flying toddler body slam.

I would probably still be lying in a broken heap of busted limbs in the middle of my living room, but fortunately, the dog was able to dial 911 with her snoot and I am resting comfortably in the local hospital.  I am typing this with my pinky toe as that is the only part of me that doesn’t hurt.  They are considering a 302 as anyone who attempts to mix yoga and a toddler is surely certifiable.  Since your house is toddler free, hopefully your experience will be more relaxing than mine.  Here are a few yoga apps that you might find useful.  I was enjoying Simply Yoga before disaster struck.  As an extra precaution you may want to attempt this while your fur kids are napping just in case.  A German Shepherd foot to the solar plexus could be just as devastating and a Maine Coon foot to the eye is not out of the realm of possibility.  Although I hear jaunty little eye patches will be all the rage this fall.  Hopefully, they will come in extra large as I am concerned about the longevity of my latest fitness endeavors.  Hope that you are fairing better.  May the flex be with you!

#5 A little game called Propaganda

When I was a kid, I was given the opportunity to participate in something called the Academic Games.  How I was tapped for this challenge is a long and complicated tale that would take far too long to explain here.  In fact, I think I have enough material from this time period in my life to develop a lengthy biopic.  The trailer would go something like this:  Watch the coming of age story of a bright young girl, trapped in the middle of farm country where knowledge of livestock and cash crops is valued over book learnin’, as she struggles to realize her full potential.  Will she find academic and personal success or will she cave to the pressure, act dumber than she is, get knocked up, and end up marrying some local bohunk?

SPOILER ALERT:  She did occasionally flaunt bad grades in order to appear cooler.  Who knew that genuinely struggling in algebra could be a one way ticket to populartown?  She also did not get knocked up until much later in life after she was married to a non-local hunk of the non-bo variety.  Finally, she ended up teaching in competitive high schools where being smart was the only way to snag a seat at the lunch table for “IT” kids.  If only she had known of this utopia sooner.  Or maybe not.

My dear students, please do not whine to me about the difficulty of the college admissions process.  Try getting letters of recommendation when your school librarian also happens to be the local blacksmith and most of your farmhands teachers have hundreds of heifers cows to milk immediately after the bell rings!  Their response?  “Uhm miss, first, I’m not sure what a school librarian does.  I think I saw one in a movie once.  Second, why couldn’t your teachers just wait until later to milk their cows?”  Insert lengthy explanation to suburb dwellers about how milk gets from cow to big shiny truck to grocery store carton.  I am certain that at least one of my former pupils was able to weave such a shocking revelation into college essay gold.

Movie making aspirations aside, let’s get back to the original topic of Academic Games.  To those unfamiliar with these games of intellectual judo, an image of teens in blazers participating in a trivia showdown probably comes to mind, but this was not the case.  The Academic Games were a series of different competitions hosted by a local university.  Students would spend hours prepping for these brainy battles in the hopes of bringing glory to their school and qualifying for Nationals that took place somewhere in the middle of Georgia.  Picture a conference room filled from one end to the other with tables, surrounded by the brainiest kids in the county, hunkered over a nerdy kind of board game, making wagers on their ability to access and apply huge amounts of knowledge in record time.  The betting was just as fierce as any bunch of blue hairs on a twenty-four hour bus trip to Atlantic City.  The moderator overseeing it all was a quirky lady named Carol who feared enjoyed  a cult-like following among the competition participants.

A variety of games were offered to appeal to a range of interests.  There was a historical trivia game involving all of the U.S. Presidents which I enjoyed playing and winning and there was a grammar based game that I played occasionally.  There was also a math related game that I avoided like the plague.  Oddly enough, I am still able to rattle off hundreds of bizarre facts about most of our former presidents using mnemonic devices that I created decades ago.  Just to be clear, I am not bragging since this information is probably taking up valuable space in my brain that could be used for bigger and better things.  If I could just delete the President files, I could more easily track down missing cell phones and car keys or remember to take the recycling out to the curb on the appropriate day.  While dominating the presidential questions during a rousing game of bar trivia or chatting with a history nut at a cocktail party who happens to just adore Willam Howard Taft can serve a purpose, the skill set that I walked away with from these particular experiences was not extremely useful in the real world.

Except for one.  A game that stands out among all the rest, whose techniques have a useful application for every person on the planet.  This game tests your ability to recognize and analyze exactly how you are being manipulated and for what purpose.  It’s name?  PROPAGANDA.  While the scenarios for each question relied heavily on texts taken from the advertising industry, they were not limited to TV commercials and radio pitches alone.  In fact, it was quite surprising how many other areas of life are filled with propaganda ripe for the taking, from big government agencies to the sneaky scheming of our own family members.  After more than two decades, I am still able to spot propaganda and when need be I can even use the techniques for my own purposes.  For the most part, I use my powers for good and not evil.  This is a skill set that proves far more useful than being able to rattle off random data about obscure dead presidents.  The techniques were equally fascinating to my older brother, who never actually competed in the Academic Games but acted as a sort of coach to help me train for each upcoming battle of wits.  He is of the personal opinion that studying the techniques of the game PROPAGANDA should be a required first year course at all colleges and universities.  Both of us probably have a copy of the technique list filed away for safe keeping somewhere but blessed be the Interweb, I’ve been able to track down the list here.  Enjoy it for yourself and as always, stay skeptical!

#4 Little Birthday Boozecakes

I have been meaning to share this completely and totally amazing recipe with you since my birthday way back in February.  I made a Pre-St. Paddy’s Day test batch to see if all the fuss about them on the Internet was true.  After all, no one wants to serve up a suck-o dessert to their friends and family come the big day for the wearin’ of the green just because they listened to some joker on the Interweb who falsely claimed that a mediocre recipe was super awesome.  Since I am not just some online schmuck,  but your real life sister, you can actually trust me when I tell you that these cupcakes really do kick some serious hiney in the dessert department.  (Note use of STATUS as my persuasive propaganda technique.)

It has been very hard keeping them a secret because they are freaking fabulous!  And by freaking I mean the f-bomb but I have censored myself because I have a toddler and can no longer use the type of descriptive vocabulary necessary to truly convey how much I love these cupcakes.  So what if he can’t read yet, I can’t allow myself to be tempted into slipping back into my old “I heart cussing like a sailor” ways.  I guarantee you that this dessert will blow your little shamrock embroidered socks off, make you want to dance a wee jig around the kitchen as you suck every last schmear of frosting from your fingers, and bust yer old shillelagh in two when you are done.  By the way, Gaelic spelling is absolutely impossible.

As long as you have the two kinds of alcohol on hand, the recipe is quite simple to whip up.  I did not have any Bailey’s when I made them the first time.  No big deal, I made this homemade version which seriously lengthened the prep time.  While stirring a few ingredients together shouldn’t have taken long, I also didn’t have any chocolate syrup which the pseudo Bailey’s required so I made that from scratch as well.  Don’t go to all that trouble if you can avoid it.  Just buy the dang Bailey’s.  I would have done so myself but we happened to be having a blizzard on the day that I made them.  However, if you need some chocolate syrup and you have the time to make it yourself, this recipe is a winner and it lasts for about a month in the fridge.

I freely admit that I was initially concerned about putting Guinness in cupcake batter.  Fear not as the results are undeniably stupendous.  It makes the most wonderfully moist, deep, dark, chocolatey cupcakes that I have ever had in my entire life.  They keep very well without drying out, but I am warning you that they will not last long enough for you to personally find this out!  Better make sure to tune up your old elliptical as you will need it to stave off the extra pounds with these bad boys in the house.  As for the Bailey’s frosting, I have no words.  The combination is sinfully delicious.  Knowing how you pride yourself on maintaining a well stocked pantry, you probably have both Guinness and Bailey’s in your larder, which means that  you could be stuffing your face with these little gems in less than an hour.  I confess that I have a batch cooling on my counter-top, waiting to be lovingly frosted as soon as I finish typing this post.

Here is the recipe that I used along with a few tweaks that I found made them even better.  I could not find all of my cupcake pans so I had to squeeze all of the batter into the 18 holes that I had available.  This fills them right up to the top and while I was initially afraid that they would puff up and overflow leaving nasty scorched batter all over the bottom of my oven, they did not.  Turns out reducing the number of cupcakes to eighteen makes for a perfectly domed cupcake.  While I do allow the molten Guinness concoction to cool a bit, I couldn’t possibly wait until it was room temperature.  When the pan is still warm but you can place your hand on it without burning the crap out of your fingers, I say get crackin’!  Finally, I did not take the time to sift any of the ingredients and I reduced the amount of powdered sugar in the frosting to 3 1/2 cups.  I highly recommend that you forever incorporate these into your St. Patrick’s Day reveling!  Even if you weren’t already a vegetarian, it sure beats the heck out of corned beef and cabbage!